From “Reactivating Memories During Sleep: Memory Rehearsal During Sleep Can Make a Big Difference in Remembering Later” (Science Daily, April 13, 2013):
“Why do some memories last a lifetime while others disappear quickly? A new study suggests that memories rehearsed, during either sleep or waking, can have an impact on memory consolidation and on what is remembered later.
Wednesday, May 1st, 2013
A lifelong writer, HYACINTHE MILLER is editing drafts of her non-fiction book (Police Officer: Journeys from Recruit to Chief), two novels, and an anthology of erotic short stories. She is president of the Writers’ Community of York Region and a member of Sisters in Crime and Toronto Romance Writers. She maintains a blog, Write in Plain Sight, and is developing another site called The Police Professional.
* * *
I’ve always been enamoured of snapshots, those frozen fleeting seconds of our lives that outlast memory.
The date printed on the pinked margin reads February 1938. Grandmother’s thick wavy hair is pinned back under a fancy hat. The camera registers her dark oval face, her unblinking gaze under a solemn brow, the fox-head stole draped around her shoulders. Her fingers grip a wooden plinth, as if to press it into the floor.
“My mother was a dainty woman,” Mom would whisper, prying the lid from a dusty storage box and easing grandmother’s shoes from a bed of crinkly tissue. Tiny (size 4), low-heeled and shiny black and soft as frosting, with a comforting, worn scent, those boots were a talisman. Wiping her eyes with the corner of her apron, she’d turn away to look at something I couldn’t see. I’d trace the sweep of leather buttons, the cobbler’s stitched signature on the instep. There was no question of me putting them on — at age ten I was almost as tall as my mother, with feet far too big. Eleven months after the portrait was taken, grandmother sat in a dentist’s chair to have a tooth extracted and didn’t awaken from the ether. At age 19 the orphaned guardian of three younger siblings, my stoic, graceful mother would wear the weight of that death all of her life.
The photo of my mother at 22 hangs on the wall of my sewing room, in an antique frame we unearthed in her garage after she died suddenly in 1998. In it she is shy, slender, hopeful — I was that way too, once. She’s affianced of my father, a dreamy lad deployed as a sapper with the British Corps of Engineers in the pestilential trenches of Second World War Egypt. We’re not sure how they met, or when. My brothers and I speculate, injecting romance or intrigue into an invented history. In that unruly garden behind the family walk-up in Montreal, Mom looks more incandescent than sunlight. In fading convent-school cursive, she wrote on the reverse, Greeting to My Beloved, Christmas 1942. He returned two years later, not the man she’d thought she knew, but a wary, tight-lipped husk, besotted by an Englishwoman who’d reclaim him twelve years later, leaving my mother bereft again, this time with three small children of her own. Mom mourned/adored him till she died. I learned the persistence of love.
My daddy, whom I would love even when he no longer knew me, stands at parade rest in a postcard photograph, cap rakishly askew over his right ear, dark khaki uniform sharply pressed, boots spit-shined, cloth service belt wrapped tight around his narrow waist. Birthed in a village somewhere in Cuba and lacking proper documentation, he’d lied about his age to enlist in the army. The sweet-faced poet-photographer-machinist-farmer looks to be on the threshold of tears. He inscribed the photo, From Ronnie to dear Eunice, with his love. Underneath what looks like a hastily sketched bird is a blotch of red, whether wax or a scrap from an album I don’t know. But it resembles a misshapen heart. When I first found the picture among my mother’s things, those words, his love, struck me as odd phrasing, but recalling the lives they’d lived — briefly together and decades apart — I knew that he’d lost whatever self he had, after he sailed on that troop ship and puked his way to war. He’d shaken hands with the Shadow.
In a yellowing cellophane bag tucked on the top shelf of my closet, I’ve kept the pair of impossibly tiny pink booties that were mine. They seem more fitting for a doll than a full-term infant. I was born fourteen days short of my parents’ first anniversary. Babies were smaller in those lean days after the Armistice. I recall stories of how poor they were. How important the family connections. The sweater Mom knitted fits my outstretched hand. Decorated with scalloped edges, eyelet rows, and yellow ducks, the fine wool sweater’s much washed, the stitches barely felted, no longer pristine white but aged to ivory.
Jess and I have been best friends since February 1961, when she blew into Sister John Francis’s class at Denis Morris High School, nudging the trajectory of my future. Drum corps and cheerleading, smoking Export ‘A’s pilfered from her dad, and . . . boys. At age 16, we are so innocent in our matching white jackets. Not for nothing in 1992 are we wearing dark sweaters, reflecting, perhaps, the lessons shaping our lives. In the photo I’ve grown into the same cautious eyes that were my dad’s. Unlike him, though, I’ve saved my self.
The Superman sweater, knit when my son was in grade seven and before heroes fell from favour, later kept my mother comfy too. Graduated to a new outfit, he dropped by for a scheduled break from patrolling the 400 series highways, proud to show Nana his police cruiser. Years later, he would wear his dress uniform to her funeral. Captured forever in this photo, their innocent connection still warms.
And when I thought that my options for bliss had frayed to a thread and that my fate, like that of all the women in my family, was to grow old alone, I met him at IKEA, my Swedish Viking. His first gift was a signet ring with stylized initials reading LH in one direction, HM in the other. Our lives have intertwined, like the letters. What serendipity.
Wednesday, March 6th, 2013
From Inside Memory: Pages from a Writer’s Notebook by Timothy Findley (Toronto: Harper Perennial Canada, 1999; first edition Toronto: HarperCollins Canada, 1990)
November 11, 1970
In the plays of Anton Chekhov, there is always a moment of profound silence, broken by the words: “I remember …” What follows inevitably breaks your heart. A woman will stand there and others will sit and listen and she will say: “I remember the band playing and the firing at the cemetery as they carried the coffin. Though he was a general, in command of a brigade, yet, there weren’t many people there. It was raining. Heavy rain and snow.”
Or some such thing. And she is transformed, this woman, by her memories — absolutely transformed. And as you watch her and listen to her, you are transformed, too — or something inside you is. You change. Your attitude changes. In a way — if it has been well done — your life changes. Why should this be?
I think one reason must be that Chekhov discovered the dramatic value of memory — that a woman in tears remembers happiness; that a smiling, laughing man remembers pain. This gives you two views in one: depth and contrast. But, there’s more to it than that. Memory, Chekhov also discovered, is the means by which most of us retain our sanity. The act of remembrance is good for people. Cathartic. Memory is the purgative by which we rid ourselves of the present….”
Wednesday, January 16th, 2013
Happy new year, everyone! I hope you’ve plunged into 2013 keen to begin, or carry on, writing.
Coming up, new teaching initiatives for me include
- full-day introductory memoir workshops at Koffler Centre of the Arts
- creative writing retreats in Grenada (April) and Kawartha Lakes (July)
- a new Level II memoir writing course for University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies in Fall 2013, an 8-week follow-up to my intro course Memories into Story
I am also pleased to be returning to North York Central Library for my seventh year with a memoir series this June.
Here are the details. For further information, please contact me at email@example.com
January/March: INTRODUCTORY MEMOIR WRITING: FROM THE PERSONAL TO THE UNIVERSAL (full-day workshops)
Location: Koffler Centre of the Arts, 4588 Bathurst Street, Toronto, Ontario M2R 1W6 (free parking)
Dates: Sunday, January 27 OR Monday, March 4, 2013
Time: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Registration: Contact the Education and Student Services Office at firstname.lastname@example.org or 416-638-1881 x 4333.
Koffler Centre of the Arts is Canada’s only multidisciplinary, contemporary Jewish cultural institution presenting cutting-edge exhibitions of new Canadian and international art, and diverse programs in music, dance, literature, film, spoken word, and theatre. Their programs are open to everyone from every background.
April: SPICE ISLE WRITING & YOGA RETREAT in Grenada
Dates: April 7 to 14, 2013
Registration: Limited space still available. (Max 10 participants.) To apply, contact me at email@example.com for a detailed Retreat Guide.
Details: This creative writing retreat is suitable for most levels and for those writing fiction or creative nonfiction (including memoir). Yoga with instructor Dale Synnett-Caron, of Ottawa, is optional. Our guest speaker will be British-born author and screenwriter Oonya Kempadoo, now a resident of Grenada, named by the 2002 Orange Prize judges “a Great Talent for the 21st Century.”
May/September: MEMORIES INTO STORY: INTRODUCTION TO LIFE WRITING and MEMORIES INTO STORY: LEVEL II (online)
SPRING 2013: May 6 to July 12, 2013 ((Intro course only)
FALL 2013: September 23 to November 29, 2013 (Intro course). Dates for 8-week Level II course TBA; completion of Memories into Story: An Introduction to Life Writing is required.
Fee: $625 (Intro course)
Registration: Click Memories into Story for information or to register for an upcoming session.
Online: Creative Writing Program
ONLINE MENTOR PROGRAM: I’m available upon request as a writing coach through the Online Mentor Program, University of Toronto, School of Continuing Studies. Contact course administrator Bill Zaget at the above phone number or email address for details.
June: SHARING YOUR STORIES: AN INTRODUCTION TO MEMOIR WRITING
Location: North York Central Library, 5120 Yonge Street, Toronto
Dates: Wednesdays, June 5, 12, 19, 26, 2013 (series of 4 workshops)
Time: 1 to 3 p.m.
Fee: Free BUT registration is required and opens May 1.
July: TURQUOISE WATERS WRITERS’ RETREAT (2nd annual)
Location: Sandy Lake, Kawartha Lakes Region, Ontario, Canada (host: Janet Markham)
(New) Dates: Monday, July 29 to Friday, August 2
Registration: This retreat is currently full. Please contact me to have your name put on the waiting list.
Details: This is a creative writing retreat for those writing fiction or creative nonfiction. We are pleased to welcome chef Frank Soriano, who will prepare our evening meals (and also write!). Guest author TBA.
Check out photos from some of my previous writers’ retreats.
Wednesday, January 9th, 2013
Interview with Giller Prize winner Will Ferguson (& some writing tips): “The material is all around us”
Timing is everything.
When Will Ferguson agreed last summer to be guest author for the fall 2012 session of my University of Toronto online course Memories into Story: Introduction to Life Writing, his novel 419 (Viking Canada/Penguin Canada, 2012) had not yet been longlisted for the national Scotiabank Giller Prize. The list was unveiled just days before the course began, and over the next couple of months, my students and I watched in anticipation as 419 jumped to the shortlist, and finally, at the televised black-tie gala on October 30, took the prize.
Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013
“I was born in 1930.”
“Oh, why write such nonsense?” And then, pleased, she said, “Leave out the unfortunate parts.” And then, “If you must tell the truth, be kind.”
“It’s not about you, Mom. You might recognize bits and pieces, but it is a novel.”
“I was not perfect. Never perfect. I was the furthest from perfect. But then that was not my intent.”
Wednesday, December 19th, 2012